Cyclist sues council for £100,000 after pothole crash

Herts County Council denies responsibility for pothole that hospitalised rider

by John Stevenson   March 18, 2014  

A pothole yesterday Image by dasmart via Flickr

A cyclist who was seriously injured when he hit a pothole in Rickmansworth is suing Hertfordshire County Council because he claims the council’s failure to maintain the road caused his injuries.

According to Ross Lydall in the Evening Standard, 56-year-old Alan Curtis is seeking between £50,000 and £100,000 after being left with hearing and nerve problems, short-term memory loss and a broken arm after the crash.

Mr Curtis was training with two friends for a charity bike ride across India in October 2009 when he hit the pothole in The Drive, Rickmansworth.

He was thrown from his bike, hitting his head on the road and smashing his helmet on one side.

He told the Standard: “From that point until the Tuesday or Wednesday, I have no memory of anything. I thought I was unconscious, but the doctors and my wife tell me I was conscious. The neurologist says it’s pre- and post-traumatic stress memory loss.”

His lawyer Kevin O’Sullivan, of Levenes solicitors, said: “This highlights how devastating a pothole can be to a cyclist, and how important it is that a local authority does what the 1980 Highways Act obliges it to do, and look after the road properly.”

After his crash, Mr Curtis was treated at Watford General Hospital and then at The Wellington Hospital in St John’s Wood.

He had to take seven weeks off work. “I landed on the left side of my head,” he said. “That affected the right side of my body.

“I’ve had life-changing injuries. The hearing in my right ear is poor. I don’t feel pain or temper-ature the same way. I have pins and needles. If [the council] is not doing what it should in terms of looking after the road, it needs to have attention drawn to it.”

The council denies responsibility and declined to comment ahead of the case.

The Daily Telegraph recently found that payouts to drivers for damage caused by potholes had declined over the last three years as councils try to cut bills.

Despite an increase in the number of claims, the average compensation payout to drivers has fallen dramatically. According to the Telegraph’s figures, in 2011 the average award was £2,264, a figure that dropped to £1,565 in 2012. In 2013 motorists received £375 each on average.

While that’s not directly relevant to cyclists’ issues with potholes, it implies that the spate of court cases we’re seeing is partially caused by cash-strapped councils trying to minimise the cost of pothole damage payouts.

16 user comments

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Hope he gets the full amount.

posted by bigbluebike [16 posts]
18th March 2014 - 18:26

16 Likes

An expensive lesson in simple arithmetic: fix the potholes and you wouldn't have had to pay out anything, "cash-strapped" or not. If there were previous complaints about that stretch of road/pothole that could be grounds for negligence as they were aware of the problem but neglected to address it. Thinking

Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. ~James E. Starrs

movingtarget's picture

posted by movingtarget [136 posts]
18th March 2014 - 21:24

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Hopefully someone flagged it on fill that hole before his crash.

posted by Initialised [197 posts]
18th March 2014 - 21:31

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Councils don't have a budget to pay out claims it's passed to the insurers who control the process not councils. Their claims management team will try to minimise payout in that companies interest not thee council or claimant. All the hyperbole from the tory graph appears to not take this into account.

posted by Max_headset [14 posts]
19th March 2014 - 10:13

5 Likes

Just got told yesterday that my local council (Epsom and Ewell) are not legally culpable for my accident before Christmas because they inspect the road every 6 months and the pot hole was not there when they last inspected it. Apparently they fixed the pot hole that knocked out my teeth and put me in hospital 5 days after my crash and that makes it OK. Also it is apparently OK that the repair has failed 2 months later and the pot hole is back. At Wits End

posted by Potiriadis [16 posts]
19th March 2014 - 10:57

14 Likes

That's a load of rubbish, if the public highway is in their "area" then it's their responsibility, end of.

posted by northstar [1112 posts]
19th March 2014 - 11:09

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Our local council has "adjusted" the criteria applied by inspectors so that the depth and size of a pothole has to reach a critical size before they will repair it.
As I pointed out to my local councillor - they're now actually playing with cyclists lives in order to save money.

posted by alexb [52 posts]
19th March 2014 - 11:10

9 Likes

northstar wrote:
That's a load of rubbish, if the public highway is in their "area" then it's their responsibility, end of.

No, basically it isn't, it is the councils job to have in place a inspection regime, and to have criteria as to what needs to be fixed.

The frequency of inspection is determined by the nature of the road, so rarely used country lanes might be a once or twice a year, a major thoroughfare in a town centre might be weekly.

Then they can say, as Gloucestershire does, that a hole less than 40mmx300mmx300m is not a defect so they won't fix it. Unless it is in a town centre where, I guess, it could be a pedestrian trip hazard and then they fix at 20mm.

I have raised with the council that a development that they are planning round the corner from where I live has serious risks. The road is a mess, trucks, potholes, raised man holes covers.... the response I got wasn't very helpful, you can use an alternative route to get to the train station.... I wasn't talking about going to the train station!

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posted by mrmo [1366 posts]
19th March 2014 - 11:18

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mrmo wrote:
northstar wrote:
That's a load of rubbish, if the public highway is in their "area" then it's their responsibility, end of.

No, basically it isn't, it is the councils job to have in place a inspection regime, and to have criteria as to what needs to be fixed.

The frequency of inspection is determined by the nature of the road, so rarely used country lanes might be a once or twice a year, a major thoroughfare in a town centre might be weekly.

Then they can say, as Gloucestershire does, that a hole less than 40mmx300mmx300m is not a defect so they won't fix it. Unless it is in a town centre where, I guess, it could be a pedestrian trip hazard and then they fix at 20mm.

I have raised with the council that a development that they are planning round the corner from where I live has serious risks. The road is a mess, trucks, potholes, raised man holes covers.... the response I got wasn't very helpful, you can use an alternative route to get to the train station.... I wasn't talking about going to the train station!

Yes "basically" it is.

posted by northstar [1112 posts]
19th March 2014 - 14:49

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northstar wrote:

Yes "basically" it is.

No, and it is a subtle distinction, the councils job is to have a system in place to inspect and repair roads, the council does not have to provide roads fit for purpose.

The reason why most claims fail is because the council abide by the rules, they inspect the roads.

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posted by mrmo [1366 posts]
19th March 2014 - 14:55

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mrmo wrote:
northstar wrote:

Yes "basically" it is.

No, and it is a subtle distinction, the councils job is to have a system in place to inspect and repair roads, the council does not have to provide roads fit for purpose.

The reason why most claims fail is because the council abide by the rules, they inspect the roads.

Yes they do. The reason most claims fail is because the "councils" have invented rules to weasel out of their responsibility and some people let them.

I can keep this up as long as you like as I know i am right on this (i'll wait for you to tell me i am wrong and around we go ; ) )

posted by northstar [1112 posts]
19th March 2014 - 15:03

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Result for Mr Lucas.

Just seen on BBC London news that we was awarded close to £70k in damages.

Not sure of the full judgement and whether this will be seen as a precedent for other cases but perhaps some movement in getting councils to meet their obligations and duty of care.

Did Nightrider 2013 and 2014 for Parkinson's UK. Might just have one last go in 2015.

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posted by jova54 [628 posts]
19th March 2014 - 19:36

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I must admit I'm completely ignorant of UK laws but I think that unless you prohibit certain road users from utilizing the road (ie cycling not allowed on roadway) there is an implicit agreement that the road will be safe to ride/drive for all users otherwise you could make it so only tanks and humvees would be able drive down the road as only they could traverse the gigantic potholes without breaking an axle while Smartcars and Minis would be prohibited. Albeit this is a specious argument but that's the point. Unless you're excluding specific road users, whatever requirements the councils lay out for maintenance need to include the basic safety of all road users not just the majority.

Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. ~James E. Starrs

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posted by movingtarget [136 posts]
19th March 2014 - 19:47

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Whist it is the council's responsibility to maintain the roads it would be impossible to check the every road in a county daily hence an inspection regime is put in place. If a council can demonstrate they adhered to this inspection regime but a pothole developed between inspections with no notification recieved then they will look to defend a claim under Section 58 of the Highways Act (not something councils have invented).

It will ultimately be for a judge to decide whether the inspection regime was reasonable. Some claims will be defended successfully and others will be awarded in the claimant's favour.

posted by Dreamf0x [7 posts]
20th March 2014 - 11:10

4 Likes

northstar wrote:

I can keep this up as long as you like as I know i am right on this (i'll wait for you to tell me i am wrong and around we go ; ) )

Section 58.

If a judge decides a councils inspection regime is acceptable, then it is. Pot holes will happen, everyone accepts that. How they are dealt with, how they are found. That is as far as a councils responsibility extends.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1366 posts]
20th March 2014 - 11:23

6 Likes

*laughs and smiles* because you know that just isn't true ; )

*waits for more bullshit*

posted by northstar [1112 posts]
21st March 2014 - 19:29

3 Likes